[First published on Education Central on 12 May 2019.]
The March Christchurch terrorist attack has prompted more urgent debate about the policing of social media sites. In a digital world awash with information and misinformation educators are more important than ever as knowledge navigators. Two parts of education for each part of regulation is the way forward according to Lyall Lukey, Convener of July’s Education Leaders Forum Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers
Connecting and Ensnaring
“Never has there been a greater need to invest in national digital resilience, capability and protection as there is today.” Don Christie, MD, Catalyst IT
The speed and scope of the transformation of the communication environment by the Internet has transformed the way we live, learn and work. There are around 60 billion webpages. As well as problems of variable accuracy, the sheer amount of online information available is overwhelming.
Electronic threads both connect and ensnare us. The democracy of the web – the opportunity for individuals to access information and have a voice online – is a double-edged sword.
The Wild West Web
“The Web as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.” Sir Tim Berners-Lee
30 years ago Berners-Lee created the “public” internet, aka the World Wide Web as an information-sharing tool with a free source code: an “open and democratic platform for all.”
Three decades on, with smart phones, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Trademe, Instagram and Netflix, it’s hard to imagine a world without the internet. Associated digital advances in A.I. and engineering have made Science Fiction Science Fact.
The extent to which the internet distorts information as much as it shares it, which was the original utopian hope, has become painfully obvious in the age of President Donald Trump.
“President Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims.” Washington Post 29/4/19
In our so-called post-truth age, according to US-based former Google engineer Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology, we are caught in a race to the bottom of the brain stem. Big IT platforms have been upgrading technology but downgrading humanity by shortening attention spans, rewarding outrage over dialogue, addicting children (and adults), and turning life into a competition for likes and shares.
The trick is to balance access via connected digital devices with the mediating power of human cognition via every learner’s free spinetop computer.
Some worship digital technology, especially that in the palm of their hand. Others demonise it as a dark electronic satanic mill grinding out mental opiates for profit, distorting world views and enabling electronic surveillance apps for political control.
The dynamic balance lies somewhere between. Edtech is a key ingredient but neither the beginning nor the end of a balanced learning diet.
Regulation and Education
“…our relationship with tech has both been darker and more muddy because it becomes increasingly clear that all the bright and shiny positive potentials of tech are at the risk of being darkened by forced misuse of data… Margrethe Vestager, EU Competition Commissioner
After years of largely unregulated growth, in 2018 the worm started to turn against Facebook, Google and other online platforms that compete for our attention and personal details. Now regulators are closing in.
The live streaming video of the Christchurch terrorist attack, watched by many local students during the lockdown period, has prompted more urgent debate about the policing of social media sites.
12 years after the launch of the iPhone changed the digital game irrevocably it’s high time to strike a better balance between the very real upsides and the obvious downsides of digital life and learning. Two parts of education for every one part of regulation is the way forward.
Educators as Knowledge Navigators
“Technology and social media continue to disrupt education. Classrooms are morphing into maker spaces; STEM labs and media centres are filled with fascinating electronic gadgets. Teachers spend less time in front of the class and more time in the middle of the action”. 10 Big Ideas in Education.
Society has been reshaped and the world of work is changing irrevocably in terms of what is done, where and by whom, with huge implications for education and training. Educators feel the depth of change but can be also overwhelmed by it.
Information and misinformation travel at the speed of light – not so knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is power; data and information are just ingredients.
In a world awash with digital data it is important to affirm that educators are more important than ever as knowledge navigators, the education equivalent of Shackleton’s Kiwi navigator Frank Worsley.
This puts the emphasis on critical search and interpretative skills to improve the quality of written, oral and visual communication.
Blended learning combining active teaching methodologies and online learning appears to improve students’ engagement and produce better learning outcomes
The issue is not just teaching teachers more about learning technology; rather it is them learning to let go of their gatekeeper control of information and use their coaching skills to facilitate the search for information, the acquisition of knowledge and the development of other skills.
As well as presentation, group learning and DIY tools, edtech helps teachers facilitate and track personalised education programmes, with individual goals and pathways, for what Jude Barback calls the Fidgetal Generation .
“The internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” Barack Obama
Access to technology and digital skills have become increasingly essential for people to fully participate in society and the economy. The poor and low skilled are being left behind in the digital world.
According to the Digital Inclusion Research Group about 100,000 New Zealanders don’t have access to the internet. That equates to about 15 per cent of families, but in some places it’s likely to be 50 per cent or more.
ELF19 speaker Arnika Macphail , Greater Christchurch Schools’ Network will focus on equitable digital access for students by telling the story of Project ConnectED, a collective effort to connect students and whānau to their education from home.
As well as digital access there also needs to be a shift to building and assessing digital capability. While many young people are confident using digital technologies for social purposes, a large number do not appear to have the skills necessary for productive work.
New Technology Curriculum from 2020
“This change signals the need for greater focus on our students building their skills so they can be innovative creators of digital solutions, moving beyond solely being users and consumers of digital technologies.” New Zealand Curriculum-Technology
The Ministry of Education has revised the Technology learning area to strengthen the positioning of Digital Technologies in the New Zealand Curriculum. Schools will be expected to fully integrate this into their curriculum by the start of 2020.
The goal is to ensure that all learners have the opportunity to become digitally capable individuals.
“Ideas that would have previously would have only lived in the printed word…may now find better expression in the app, the blog, the game and the website.” Michael Lascarides
Teachers and learners have unprecedented access to a wide range of stimulating learning resources, many on quality attested sites. Digital pearls of information don’t have to be cultivated from scratch, but can be easily re-threaded and re-purposed.
The digital transformation of life enables what Dr Peter Smith calls “free range learning”. With educators as guides and meaning makers, learners and earners can take charge of their learning and career destinies.
The goal is to integrate technology into classroom learning and out of class projects in ways which optimise its positive benefits and minimise its harmful effects.
Doing it the Kiwi way
“We just have to be smart about what we’re doing and focus on doing it the Kiwi way.”
Don Christie, MD Catalyst
Several ELF19 speakers will demonstrate digital dividends in a learning context.
Phil Ker, C E Otago Polytechnic’s opening keynote is on Integrating Learning and Work in the Digital Age. It will pick up on the fast evolving vocational education and training landscape and cover challenges, benefits, tools and a micro-credential qualification mechanism.
Nicola Ngarewa, Principal Spotswood College will share the transformative journey from a traditional learning context to a future focused educational model based on her experience of leading this shift in two different schools– an underperforming decile 1 area school, and a high performing decile 5 traditional high school.
Mike Hollings, C E Te Kura speaks on the school’s transformative shift to online provision in order to greatly enhance teaching and learning in terms of access, engagement and learner agency via the use of digital technology. Students engage in real life learning opportunities with their passions and interests at the centre.
Dr Phil Silva, Founding Director of the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, provides changing technology insights into the research evolution of the world renowned Dunedin Study. He also shares tips to help people employ, enjoy and survive new technology.
Previewing the real world
“… the education system… doesn’t prepare students for the real world. .. students are letting a world of opportunity slip by, as they leave high school completely unaware of how our world is rapidly changing…” William Reynolds Open letter to educators: please prepare us better for the real world
Other ELF19 speakers will give registrants insights into innovative digital learning developments.
Cheryl Adams, CEO of Animation Research founded by Ian Taylor, Innovator of the Year, is passionate about introducing tamariki to the opportunities that tech opens up for them. Together with Jimmy McLauchlan, Methodist Mission South, she will demonstrate some Virtual Reality Learning Tools aimed at improving literacy and other skills for those in prison.
Hilary O’Connor, Director of Technical Sales, Soul Machines, will introduce and demonstrate a new type of Artificial Intelligence called Experiential Learning and the world’s first Digital Brain™. Soul Machines is radically humanising technology, enabling “digital beings” to accumulate experiences, learn and respond emotionally.
Paul Stevens, GM Open Knowledge group, Catalyst IT, provides revealing insights into IT Innovation, opportunities for Generation Z and lessons for educators. Catalyst has implemented some of the world’s largest Learning Management Systems using open source technologies to compete internationally and outsmart larger competitors.
Fraser Liggett , Economic Development Manager, Enterprise Dunedin overviews Education-Business links and outlines the evolving plans for a Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE) in Dunedin which will build on the city’s digital strengths, particularly in game and app development and education and training.
“We are fundamentally changing the way kids think and the way their brains develop.” Dr Jim Taylor, author of Raising Generation Tech.
All technologies bring benefits and problems. The new technologies of today spread faster and affect more people more quickly. The business models which support a largely free and open connected world and enable technology to empower themselves can also be used for unscrupulous purposes.
There is growing evidence of some inherent dangers. All learning communities need to develop strategies to support the development of online safety and wellbeing.
“We all know that carrots and broccoli are good for our health, but would you spend your whole day eating them? Anything in excess has its downsides, yet many of us seem happy to binge on technology.” Tech Diet BBC
Just as there are healthy foods, super foods and junk foods, there are several types of technology. If we want a healthy relationship with them, we need to understand how they impact our brains. Some experts argue that certain online games are like junk food and should be used more sparingly by still developing young brains.
ELF19 Day 2 speaker Dr Mary Redmayne, an Independent Researcher at Monash and Victoria Universities, will address the dangers of screen overuse. She points out that in less than ten years most mobile phones have moved from being phone-call and texting devices to an indispensable, instant-access remote source of information, social connection and entertainment.
For many people the immediacy and ‘rewards’ increasingly over-ride the very real need for face-to-face interactions, outdoor exercise and time with nature.
“…We are all just prisoners here of our own device.” Eagles “Hotel California” 1977 prophecy?
There is a growing body of evidence on the addictive, brain changing power of digital technology. Psychologists are learning how dangerous smartphones can be for teenage brains. Research has found that a young teenager’s risk for depression jumps 27% when social media is used frequently.
Teachers should not just leave learners to their own devices. In a classroom setting they are simply tools to be used appropriately to search, learn and produce.
Online Safety and Wellbeing Strategies
“…today’s complex digital landscape… offers young people incredible learning and social opportunities… with increasing prolific use of online platforms and digital technologies, the likelihood of risks and challenges arising also increases. ” Angela Webster, OnLine Safety Adviser, Netsafe
Netsafe’s Angela Webster will underline for ELF participants the need for all learning communities to develop preventive and responsive strategies to support students’ online safety and wellbeing and the development of digital citizenship.
Handling Fake News and Flaky Views
“The Christchurch shooting tragedy underlines the role of education in tackling prejudice and hate in social media and other online contexts…” A/Prof. Donald Matheson, UC
Educating young people to stay safe and not do harm is important, but just as important is educating them about how to participate and share constructively online, listen across differences, think critically and access credible sources of information.
Donald Matheson Head of Media and Communications, University of Canterbury, will show ELF19 participants how the Christchurch shooting tragedy underlines the role of education in handling online information critically and tackling prejudice and hate in social media and other online contexts by demonstrating the links between hateful comments and action.
“When life itself is changing dramatically, so must we and so must the learning process.” Leon E Panetta quoted in Dr Peter Smith’s Free-Range Learning in the Digital Age
To lead credibly and effectively education leaders need to keep adapting..
The 2018 KPMG New Zealand CEO Outlook Survey suggests that New Zealand CEOs understand the challenge, with 98 percent positively viewing digital transformation as an opportunity rather than a threat. However 64 percent acknowledge that their organisation is struggling to keep pace with technology innovation.
It’s unlikely that the situation is any better across the education sectors.
There is a widespread need for leadership which is adaptive, collaborative, distributed and based on BES leadership principles .
Education leaders need to understand not just the technological side of leading change but also the cultural side in order to harness the edtech knowledge of their colleagues, their students and their community.
In the words of Jeffrey R. Anderson: “We have another chance to navigate, perhaps in a slightly different way than we did yesterday. We cannot go back. But we can learn.”
Lyall Lukey, Convener, Education Leaders Forums